How to empower your team and achieve true productivity in the ‘new normal’

By Becca Duncan, People & Change Consultant

You love working from home. You hate working from home. You’re glad you’re no longer spending time commuting and buying expensive sandwiches from Pret or the café downstairs. Still, you secretly really miss the expensive coffees and stress-relieving chats with colleagues in the office kitchen. Whatever your thoughts are on working from home, it looks like our recent experiences of remote working could be here for a while longer.

If you’re a team leader, thinking about how you’re going to support your people through this period – and beyond – whilst striving to deliver, can be daunting. Besides any obvious challenges of lacking physical equipment or workspaces (“the internet’s dropped again, sorry, I’ll need to move rooms, closer to the router”), there are other questions that arise when we consider working remotely on a more permanent basis:

  • How can I be sure that my team are being productive?;
  • How will I ensure my team members are being supported effectively?; and maybe;
  • Is there a way I can capitalise on this shift to remote working? How?

As with any change that affects a large number of people, the answer to these types of questions isn’t easy, and finding balanced solutions will come down to more than a few actions. But there are several, simple goals that can be pursued that will drastically help your people to navigate this change; such as investing money or time in learning programmes for anyone in a managerial position.

How can I be sure that my team are being productive whilst maintaining their wellbeing?

The simple answer to this question is, that you can’t. It’s up to your team to monitor their workload, quality of work, and decide when it’s time to log off. Consider investing in learning and development programmes for line managers and team leaders that will give your organisation a consistent level of task and people management expertise. This will help to create a more collaborative environment, where individuals are encouraged to self-manage their work, and people managers act as enablers to help them. A classic example of where this is done well is at Apple, where collaboration is encouraged, through trusting people, and giving them the space to do their work. As Steve Jobs once said; “Teamwork is dependent on trusting the other folks to come through with their part without watching them all the time.” Managers also play a more significant role in supporting and setting direction.

If your company uses timesheets, check that people managers are using the time to reach out to their direct reports and understand what they’re doing, and how they’re doing, and encourage them to do this if they’re not using that time. It might sound basic, but even those with previous people management experience will likely benefit from some advice around different support techniques.

How will I ensure my team members are being supported effectively?

The role of the line manager is vital in normalising life as a remote worker, especially considering that some people -those with particularly technical or more junior roles for example -may find themselves going through their day with no contact with team members.

Setting regular check-ins is a quick win in making sure that they have someone to speak to throughout the week. Refer to your last employee engagement survey (usually held by HR) to get an idea of where your efforts may be best focused, and if it’s more than three months old, run another survey. It’s always better to listen to what your employees tell you they want, instead of assuming on their behalf. If possible, set aside time to do some work tasks together – it may feel like a lot of time spent, but there are few better alternatives to learning on the job and even fewer ways to build effective working relationships with colleagues.

And if you’re still missing those stress-relieving chats in the office kitchen, there are ways to recreate this. At BJSS we’ve implemented a few small, but impactful ways of people teaming together, such as weekly mid-morning or afternoon breaks that anyone can dial into. We’ve also been running company-wide virtual ‘brew breaks’, whereby we randomly allocate registered member of staff to a group of people they may have not met before.

Is there a way I can capitalise on this shift to remote working? How?

The good news is that any initial losses you’ve noticed, in terms of collaboration or innovation, can be made up by giving people the freedom to find what works best for them.

Effective support takes many different forms, but all of them include the skill of active listening and enabling flexible working for your people specifically. If you’re going to ask your people questions in surveys, make sure you act on at least a few of the key areas. In our Consulting team at BJSS, it was called out on our engagement surveys that we wanted more communications around specific areas. So we ran a comms survey, asking what people were interested in hearing about, and how often, and have now tailored our team communications to the responses. Similarly, with Diversity & Inclusion, many of us felt that we wanted to do more in this space. Therefore we’ve spent time as a team reviewing what we’re doing and how we make building diverse and inclusive teams a key part of our aims. Now we are building on our efforts, and have a much more robust strategy that the team can own collectively.

In terms of flexible working, we’ve heard the term being bandied about for years. Still, in reality, the flexible aspect of this looks different for everyone. For some, flexibility is all about start and end times, for others, it may be about communication methods or work location. Whatever this looks like, ask the question and actively listen to the answer. Giving people the space to tell you what will help them, and trying to accommodate for it, can be the difference between a well-supported employee, and one that is calling in with burnout.

Summary

In summary, now’s the time to invest in your people through listening to what they want, and empowering them to get there. Help your line managers to support their direct reports  by offering remote learning opportunities, and help your people to work at their best by actively encouraging teaming with their line managers, and across the organisation. Finally, make sure you’re keeping up regular engagement surveys and trialling new methods of teaming, based on the results – and then track how well they’re doing through the next survey.

In our next article on remote working, Amin Rhalem will be reflecting on collaborating remotely, and what really works in this space.